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Callers Grill Fiji PM On Coup Reconciliation Bill

Callers Grill Fiji PM On Controversial Reconciliation Bill

By Vasemaca Rarabici

SUVA (Wansolwara Online/Pacific Media Watch): Callers on two vernacular radio talkback shows bombarded Fiji¹s Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase yesterday with questions on the controversial Promotion, Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill.

Qarase fielded questions on Communications Fiji Ltd¹s Fijian language station, Viti FM, from 12.30pm-2pm, and then on the Hindi station, Radio Sargam, from 2pm-3.30pm.

Fijian callers were generally supportive of the bill, although some expressed reservations about the amnesty clause, which seeks to grant pardons to those involved in the May 2000 coup in exchange for their testimonies.

A Fijian caller on Viti FM asked Qarase whether the bill was just a political ploy to please his constituency by releasing the coup perpetrators.

Qarase explained that through the bill, the government aimed to bring an end to all coup related investigations.

"This bill gives the chance to those involved in the coup to come forward and give their statements, apply for amnesty and be forgiven if the commission approves their application.

"We need to end the investigations and forget about May 2000 and move forward."

The caller replied that if Fiji was truly democratic, then offenders should be punished according to the legal system regardless of how long it took to bring them to justice.

Another caller on Viti FM asked whether the bill was for the benefit of Fijians only. Qarase said that everyone regardless of race would benefit from the bill.

Otherwise, Fijian callers praised the government for its leadership and initiative in introducing the bill to bring peace and unity in the country.

Questions from Indian callers centered mainly on the amnesty clause.

One caller expressed the views of many when he said that freeing the coup convicts would be setting a precedent for future coup plotters.

"With the amnesty clause, people can hold coups whenever they want, knowing they can apply for amnesty,² said the caller.

Others said the bill disregarded the suffering of the victims of the 2000 coup, while another asked how it was possible for genuine reconciliation to take place without the consent of the coup victims.

The caller was referring to the Fiji Labour Party Coalition government members who were removed at gunpoint by the coup plotters, and the family of the former President, the late Ratu Kamisese Mara, also removed from office.

Qarase replied that participation in the reconciliation process was voluntary and that the bill did not remove the victims¹ right to seek legal redress

Qarase added that the current debate was part of the democratic process and the government was listening to all viewpoints.

"There are certain clauses that have been heavily debated," Qarase said. "Government is going to seriously look at it and if we come to a stage where we need to change it, we will.

"It might take away the differences that exist today."



PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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